Depression

We all have times when we feel down, but depression is about more than feeling sad or fed up for a few days. Depression causes a low mood that lasts a long time and affects your daily life.

*Last updated: 8 July 2021

It can range from mild to severe. Mild depression can make you feel low and as though everything is harder to do. Severe depression can lead to feeling hopeless and, in some cases, suicidal.

Depression is very common. In any given week in England, three in every 100 people will experience depression. Even more – eight in every 100 – will experience mixed depression and anxiety.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression affects people in different ways. Most people feel sad or hopeless and there are a range of other symptoms.

Depression can affect your mind, body and behaviour.

You might feel:

  • sad, upset or tearful
  • guilty or worthless
  • restless or irritable
  • empty and numb
  • lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem
  • unable to enjoy things that usually bring you pleasure
  • helpless or hopeless
  • anxious or worried
  • suicidal or want to hurt yourself.

Physical symptoms can include:

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • moving or speaking more slowly
  • sleep problems: finding it hard to get to sleep or waking up very early
  • changes in your weight or appetite
  • constipation
  • no sex drive and/or sexual problems
  • unexplained aches and pains.

You might behave differently. You may:

  • avoid other people, even your close friends
  • find it hard to function at work, college or school
  • find it difficult to make decisions or think clearly
  • be unable to concentrate or remember things.

Some people experience psychosis during a severe episode of depression. This means you may see or hear things that aren’t there or believe things that aren’t true.

Different types of depression

Your doctor may diagnose you with depression and say that it’s mild, moderate or severe depending on your symptoms and how severe they are. Or you may be diagnosed with a specific type of depression, such as:

  • dysthymia – mild depression that lasts for several years
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern
  • postnatal depression – depression that many parents experience after having a baby. Some people experience antenatal depression during pregnancy.

What causes depression?

Depression is a complex condition. There are different factors that can lead to depression, including:

  • genetics – if you have a close relative with depression, you’re more likely to experience depression yourself
  • physical health problems
  • childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect or bereavement
  • stressful life events such as unemployment, the end of a relationship, or being bullied or assaulted.

Getting support

The first step to getting support is to speak to your GP.

Common treatment for depression involves a combination of self-help, talking therapies and medication. The right treatment for you will depend on the type of depression you have and how severe it is.

Self-help resources

Your GP may offer you self-help resources. These are often available quite quickly and may be enough to help you feel better without trying other options. They include self-help books, online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or group exercise classes – there is evidence that exercise can help depression.

The NHS website has more information about self-help, including links to books, apps and online forums.

Talking therapies

Talking therapies involve speaking in confidence to a trained professional about your feelings and worries. There are many different talking therapies that are recommended for depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, psychotherapy and counselling. Your GP can advise you about which one you may find most helpful.

Medication

Another option is to take antidepressants. You can take them on their own or while having talking therapy.

There are several different types of antidepressants and you can talk to your GP about which one might suit you best. If one doesn’t work, you may be prescribed another. You usually need to take them for one or two weeks before you start to feel the benefit.

Read more about antidepressants on the NHS website.

Ways you can look after yourself

If you’re depressed, there are steps you can take to lift your mood and help your recovery. These steps can help if you’ve been depressed in the past and want to stay well.

  • Talk about how you’re feeling. Talking to someone you trust, or finding peer support, can help you feel better and less alone.
  • Eat well. A healthy diet can lift your mood and maintain your mental health.
  • Stay physically active. Exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do, but it can ease the symptoms of depression. Research suggests it may be as effective as antidepressants in helping you feel better.
  • Spend time in nature. Research shows that being in nature can make us feel happier, feel our lives are more worthwhile, and reduce our levels of depression
  • Avoid cigarettes and alcohol. They may feel like they’re helping at first, but they make things worse in the long run.
  • Try talking therapy to stay well. NICE guidelines recommend CBT or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy if you’ve been depressed in the past.